"Just like the LHC, CERN is a big and complicated machine": meet Josh, procurement officer at CERN

If you’re curious, driven, and not afraid of a challenge, this is the place for you.

Hi Josh, tell us a little about yourself and what brought you to CERN? 

My partner and I were getting tired of the grind in London and wanted a new adventure. My partner actually got offered a job first, teaching music in Lausanne, and we decided a year or two living near Lake Geneva and the Alps would be an exciting break from big city life. It was pure luck that CERN happened to be hiring for a Procurement Officer right at the time I was looking for work in the area. Don’t get me wrong, I’d always been fascinated by CERN and the science being done here, but I think I am one of the few people to arrive as the trailing spouse rather than with one in tow! 

What do you do at CERN today?

I’m a Procurement Officer responsible for buying software and cloud licences, supplies for the experiment detectors, industrial services and publishing services. Basically my job is to help technical teams buy things in a professional way. I bring commercial savvy, industry knowledge and creative thinking to the picture while the engineers and physicists, the real brains, bring the technical expertise. The work is super varied. One day I’m analysing data and crafting a procurement strategy for our software portfolio, the next I’m reviewing a technical specification for the CMS Experiment Inner Tracker’s electronic circuits, and the day after I’m negotiating a contract for on-site fibre optic installation services. So much of my job is about building relationships with technical colleagues, figuring out what questions to ask to get the information I need and then finding the right way to articulate constructive proposals or challenge the status quo.

What is working at CERN like for you?

I would say it’s a rollercoaster. I think it’s the kind of place where you can take on a lot of responsibility and have a big impact, if you’re hungry for a challenge. The more you’re ready to put yourself out there and get your hands dirty, the more opportunities you get. I’ve been involved in so many things that I would never have imagined when I applied for the job, like managing the contracts for the world’s largest open access publishing initiative and presenting to the European Commission about cloud procurement innovation. There’s always something more to learn, discover and be surprised by here.

And what is it like to live in this area?

So, I said before that I planned to come for just a couple of years then move back to London. That was four and a half years ago, and I still have no intention of leaving! If you love the outdoors there’s really nowhere better to be. I spend most weekends hiking or skiing in the mountains, apart from during Summer when you might find me by the lake with an aperol spritz! I cycle to work every day through woods and vineyards, and can run at lunch times in the countryside directly surrounding the site. Oh, I also recently adopted an Australian shepherd puppy called Otis. He is in training to be my running buddy.

Have you any memorable anecdotes to share ?

I made the mistake once of telling one of my colleagues that I was an extra in the first Harry Potter film when I was a child. Of course the word spread and now I think no matter what I achieve professionally while I’m at CERN, people will remember me first and foremost for that! And by way of coincidence, a new colleague joined the team recently who had also been an extra as a child in the same film! I’m starting to wonder if it’s an additional recruitment criterion :-).

What have been the main hurdles or challenges you encountered along the way?

Just like the LHC, CERN is a big and complicated machine. Sometimes navigating between many groups of stakeholders and administrative processes can be mind-boggling. Also, while it’s energising to have so many varied projects on the go at one time, it can also become overwhelming. I don’t want to give the wrong impression, I do usually have a great work-life balance at CERN. But there’s definitely a risk of getting pulled into too much if you’re not careful (no black hole jokes intended).

What advice would you give potential applicants?

If you’re curious, driven, and not afraid of a challenge, this is the place for you. And don’t worry if you don’t have a background in witchcraft and wizardry, I’m pretty sure that’s optional only.

Why not embark on your own engineering or technical challenge? Apply for a student, graduate or professional opportunity at CERN and take part.